Smithfield Herald

Serve the Vet fundraiser brings attention to veterans issues

More than 200 people turned out at the Clayton Steakhouse on Monday for the Serve the Vet fundraiser.
More than 200 people turned out at the Clayton Steakhouse on Monday for the Serve the Vet fundraiser.

Veterans and those who want to help them went to the Clayton Steakhouse on Monday for a luncheon to benefit Serve the Vet, a nonprofit that serves Johnston County veterans.

The fundraiser drew more than 200 people and generated about $2,000.

“Every penny we made goes into the project,” said Dr. Norwood Williams, founder of Serve the Vet. In 1980, Williams was instrumental in updating the G.I. Bill to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and those disabled by Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

Serve the Vet helps veterans and their families. Recently, the nonprofit helped pay for a wheelchair ramp at the home of a veteran injured in combat.

Other services include taking veterans to job interviews or doctor appointments.

Williams said the biggest need of late is for money to help veterans pay their utility bills.

One Vietnam veteran, Larry James, attended the luncheon with his wife. James served in the Army for 28 years and is one of four veterans who serves on the Serve the Vet board of directors.

James said one of the biggest challenges is finding veterans who need help.

“People try to act like things are OK,” he said, adding that many problems affecting veterans aren’t obvious.

“It’s not about busting a leg or an arm; a lot of it is trauma you can’t see,” James said, adding that he has struggled with PTSD after two years of combat in Vietnam.

James now spends his time working one-one-one with veterans, helping them find out which services they qualify for.

James said he can easily connect with veterans because he returned from war to face a different kind of battle at home, too.

James was in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970 and said exposure to Agent Orange caused neuropathy and discoloration in his legs. He now has pain and trouble walking

Soldiers exposed to Agent Orange are eligible for disability payments.

However, when James first applied for assistance, he was denied.

He said he knew the government made a mistake, so he reapplied and was adamant about what he needed. Not all veterans are that way, and he’s trying to reach out to people who might have given up fighting for what they deserve.

James said that ranges from dental work to finding a job to getting help with medical needs.

“When you come back and start talking about being at war with civilians on the street, they treat you like you’re crazy, and you’re not,” James said.